by Kat Castaner
When I moved to Orlando, I had no idea what I was about to find. I also had no idea who I was about to meet and how that was going to impact me. It’s taken me almost three years, but I know now that I wouldn’t be telling the full story if I neglected to mention the immense role that the LGBTQ+ Community has played in my Orlando journey.
I found exactly what I needed here: a community of driven, loving, impassioned individuals who bring out the best in me. When I think about the time I’ve spent here, I’m overwhelmed by a sense of reassurance in my decision to move to Orlando.
I’m also left with something else—the sensation that I wouldn’t be paying forward this incredible experience if I didn’t reach out to other members of the LGBTQ+ community to tell them how they can connect with others in the UCF area.
For young members of the community that are struggling to find their place in Orlando, this is for you. For allies who want to support and connect their closest friends to the community, this is for you. For members of the Orlando community who want to gain an understanding of the different sub-communities in your city, this is for you.
I can’t declare that I’m an expert on the community. I also can’t, in good faith, tell you that I know everything Orlando has to offer for the gay community. In all fairness, I don’t think many of us can. What I can tell you is that over the course of three and a half years, I’ve run across members of the community that have helped me find my way around Orlando. They’ve shown me where to turn when I need everything from professional support to a social space that I know will be incredibly accepting.
Here are a few of the people, places, and resources you can turn to as you navigate Orlando.
The Zebra Coalition provides support to young members of the LGBTQ+ community facing homelessness, isolation, or bullying. Even if you’re a well-established member of the community, you can aid the Zebra Coalition in their efforts by donating or volunteering at their events. Full disclosure—The Zebra Coalition is located in Downtown Orlando. If you’re a UCF student or know a UCF student in need of support, you’ll need to consider transportation.
If you’re looking for a location to spend time in between classes or to connect with others, Pride Commons is the perfect space to visit. Pride Commons puts on a number of social and professional networking events during the semester. It’s a great option for students that don’t have transportation off campus or those that are interested in building a network on their campus.
I first visited Pride Commons for one of their reoccurring events, “Pride Chats”. Every other Thursday during the fall semester, Pride Commons invites members of the LGBTQ+ community and their allies to enjoy smoothies in the Pride Commons lounge and get to know one another. This is an ideal event for students that are new to UCF and might be looking to meet new people.
If you’re new to the gay Orlando nightlife scene, you can count on Southern Nights to ease you in. You’ll have the opportunity to meet a young, social subset of the community. Southern Nights Orlando keeps their social media up to date so you’ll get an idea of what events are occurring and when. I suggest getting a group together and picking a day with an event or act that you’re excited to see. For example, every Saturday is Ladies Night.
I first visited Southern Nights after a group of my friends realized I had never been. They insisted that we make the trip a priority, and even after my first trip, I completely understand why. Southern Nights is a great location to make friends, dance, and get a feel for Orlando.
Parliament House is a nightclub and a hotel located on Orange Blossom Trail. Unlike Southern Nights, Parliament House doesn’t have a Ladies Night; it is generally considered a gay club. You’ll also want to be aware, while some locations guarantee a younger crowd, you can expect the average age to be 30+ at Parliament House.
Parliament House is a great location if you’re interested in seeing a spot that has been well-established and has history. It has been in business for 43 years and is still going strong— all of my experiences at Parliament House have been incredibly positive. If you can make it on the Fourth of July, you’ll be able to see a premiere drag show and catch a large crowd.
Pom Pom’s is located on North Bumby Avenue just a few blocks from Southern Nights Orlando. After stopping at Southern Nights or Lake Eola, it’s the perfect spot to end your day.
Over the past three and a half years, I’ve found that many spaces in Orlando, like Pom Pom’s, proudly affix stickers to their door that read “LGBTQ+ Safe Space”. Even if I’m just looking for a casual meal, I find it important to support businesses that acknowledge and support the community. Luckily, I don’t have to look too far.
Orlando Pride is an event that arguably merits its own article. For now, I just want to make you aware that it exists and I strongly encourage you to attend in 2019. Held in October in the middle of Downtown Orlando, it is one of the most exciting and celebratory times for the community.
You can always count on Orlando Pride to deliver large crowds, a beautiful parade, and stunning visuals. Large cities across the country hold their pride weekends at different times of the year. If you have a love for a particular city, attending their respective Pride can help you feel closer to that community and cultivate your sense of belonging there.
For a full history and mission statement you can visit Orlando Pride’s website.
For the past three and a half years, I’ve found my safe spaces through friends and members of the community. I realize that not everyone has that network and if you haven’t found it yet, know that you eventually will. If you don’t find that space in one of the resources I’ve listed, I hope they provide you with a starting point.
Know that Orlando will not disappoint, and know that your community is waiting for you.